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March 13, 2013

Perk up St. Pat’s Day with perfect Irish coffee

Perk up St. Pat's Day with a perfect coffee

Coffee, Irish whiskey and cream.

Taken separately they’re a tasty trio. But combine them just the right way and in just the right proportions and they get even better, transforming into a drink that can perk up the grayest day.

We’re talking Irish coffee, of course, a drink that’s especially popular around St. Patrick’s Day, but good any time you want to add some zing to your caffeine.

The secret, says Larry Silva, general manager of the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco — which serves up 2,000 Irish coffees a day — is how you put the drink together.

At the Buena Vista — the original source of the drink in the U.S. — Irish coffee starts with a stemmed, 6-ounce glass that’s been preheated with hot water. And both of those elements are critical. A bigger or smaller glass would throw off the coffee-booze balance. A cold glass results in a tepid cocktail. There was a bit of a hitch a few years back when Libbey Glass stopped making the type the Buena Vista uses. Silva had to scramble to find another source but, happily, Libbey has since reinstated the product.

For a touch of sweetness, the Buena Vista recipe adds two cubes of sugar, though other recipes call for brown sugar. The cream, meanwhile, should be fresh and just slightly whipped — nothing from an aerosol can.

As for the whiskey, the Buena Vista is currently using Tullamore Dew. In general, what you are seeking is a smooth whiskey that won’t fight with the other flavors, says Silva. This isn’t the time to pull out that peaty Scotch. But don’t be afraid to use something good.

“Using a premium spirit elevates any cocktail,” says John Concannon, a California vintner who has teamed with Ireland’s Cooley Distillery to develop Concannon Irish Whiskey, which also makes a good Irish coffee.

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